The Defense: Suicide by Cop - A Junk Science Law Enforcement Pays Top Dollar For
On the last day of testimony, the city attorneys called Dr. Emily Keram. After much objection by counsel, she was deemed a forensic psychiatry expert – a broad field Dr. Keram described as the intersection of psychiatry and legal issues - specifically in 'suicide by cop.' Like all experts in a case, she was asked by the hiring counsel to assume a set of facts, and in this case the assumed facts were that the shooting officers’ statements are true. “I was asked to assume officers’ statements were true, I wasn’t asked to make a credibility determination," Dr. Keram said dryly from the stand.
She talked about the concept of victim precipitated homicide – “where the person induces someone else to kill them. Historically it is people who lay down on the train tracks and have the conductor drive over them,” she testified. Suicide by cop, she continued, is a subcategory of this – a phenomena she first became aware of in the mid 90’s during a cluster of officer involved shootings when she was asked by the city of Santa Rosa to look at the mental health aspects of those cases to incorporate into law enforcement training. She was tasked with determining which officer involved incidents were 'suicide by cop' and which were not. She never reviewed cases where the person survived the officer involved shooting. She never published a study of her research and only gave one talk on the topic to the FBI. Her research didn't challenge the definition of 'suicide by cop' - just coded which officer involved shootings exhibited patterns. To make her determination she looked at the same documents that law enforcement use to build a case around suspects. She reviewed internal reviews of the incidents, external reviews, District Attorney reports, civilian witness reports, officer statements, interviews with family members and medical records
The definition of suicide by cop that Dr. Keram shared on the witness stand sounds a whole lot like the reasoning for cops to be able to use lethal force. She said, “in which an individual acts in a manner that poses a serious or imminent risk to themselves or other people in an effort to evade law enforcement.” Law enforcement has a pattern of officer involved shootings where they give the incidents a name, ask scientists to verify the phenomena, and arrive at suicide by cop as a defense. Doubt it would even pass a second grade science fair.